Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ask an author: Kids talk to a children's book author

By Roger Eschbacher

Hey you guys! My name is Roger Eschbacher and I write cartoons for a living. These days I’m working on two shows – The Littlest Pet Shop and Scooby Doo, Mystery Incorporated. I have a lot of fun writing animation, but I have even more fun writing books for kids. I’m a published picture book author and just this past fall I published my first middle-grade fantasy novel, Dragonfriend.

Over the years I’ve been asked to do signings and readings at book fairs, book stores, and in classrooms. When I’m finished reading from my books, I’ll take questions from kids in the audience. Here are three of the more popular ones:

Q: I want to be an author. How do I get started?

A: Before you become a writer, you need to be a reader; a hardcore reader. Reading needs to become one of the things you like to do as much as playing video games, riding your bike, or baking cookies. I call this kind of reading “pleasure reading” as opposed to the kind of reading you have to do in school. 

When I was a kid, I was seldom seen without a book. I loved reading then and I love reading now. Without exception, every author that I’ve ever met or read about is an avid reader who both loves books and reads for fun. They’ve been this way ever since they were kids, too.

Why is it important to be a hardcore reader before you’re a writer? Because you learn how to write your stories by reading how skilled authors write their stories. You learn what good dialogue looks like because you read books where you like what the characters are saying and how they are saying it. You learn how to describe a location or an action sequence because you read books that do this so well it’s almost like having a movie playing in your head. You learn what you like to read and why you like to read it and after a while you develop the confidence necessary to give writing a try yourself. It’s as simple as that. Not all readers become authors, but all authors are readers.

Q: Do you make a lot of money writing books?

A: Some authors make a lot of money, most do not. While I would certainly like to have the kind of success that J.K. Rowling has experienced, that’s not the reason why I write books. I do it because I have no choice. My head is full of all kinds of stories and the only way I can get them out of there is to write them down. I love to write and I love the idea that people out there, total strangers, will read my stories and, hopefully, enjoy them. That’s what keeps me writing despite the fact that I can’t afford a castle in Scotland. Not yet, anyway.

Q: Books (novels) are long! I don’t think I could ever write anything that big. How do you do it?

A: You’re right. Books, especially novels, can be very long. The way I handle the writing of a novel is to be organized and disciplined. Once I come up with an idea that sounds fun, I write a one or two page outline. I don’t go crazy into detail, just some descriptive paragraphs that help me figure out the beginning, middle, and end of the story. I list characters that come to mind and interesting settings in these paragraphs, too. These are notes to myself about what I want to write.

Then, I divide the outline up into chapters (usually 20-25). I’ll have a paragraph or so of description in each of these chapters. If this is sounding complicated to you, it really isn’t. By breaking a big thing like a novel into smaller, manageable bits, it makes it easier to give yourself permission to start writing. Writing little bits at a time isn’t as scary as the idea of writing a full novel. Everyone can write little bits.

When you’re first starting out, you don’t need to know everything about being an author or how to write a book. You just need to be brave and start writing. You’ll learn by doing, by figuring out what works and what doesn’t work as you go along. It’s okay to make mistakes. If you learn from them, mistakes help you to get better.

Then, I start writing. The way I motivate myself is by setting word count goals. My every day, non-deadline goal is 1,000 words a day. This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. A thousand words usually works out to around four double-spaced pages (I use MS Word). You could choose a smaller goal of fifty or one hundred words a day and still make some very good progress.

In a recent interview with famous author Stephen King, famous author Neil Gaiman summed it up nicely:
“I think the most important thing I learned from Stephen King I learned as a teenager, reading King’s book of essays on horror and on writing, Danse Macabre. In there he points out that if you just write a page a day, just 300 words, at the end of a year you’d have a novel. It was immensely reassuring – suddenly something huge and impossible became strangely easy. As an adult, it’s how I’ve written books I haven’t had the time to write, like my children’s novel Coraline.”

In short, if you write enough little bits, you can eventually string them all together and end up with a big old honkin’ book. That’s how I tricked myself into writing my first novel.

Roger Eschbacher is author of Dragonfriend: Leonard the Great, Book 1, Road Trip and Nonsense, He Yelled, and writer of animated television series. He is a member of Independent Authors International, and was nominated for a daytime Emmy award. His website is Roger Eschbacher Books and Other Writing.

This post originally appeared on Heather Sutherlin's Escape to another world blog.

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